Friday, April 24, 2009

High School Debut (manga, vol. 1) by Kazune Kawahara

In junior high, all Haruna really concentrated on was softball. She practiced hard, made lots of friends, and enjoyed herself, but she also began to hope that there was romance in her future. She looked forward to high school, because she figured all girls automatically got boyfriends then. When that doesn't happen, she turns to teen magazines and romantic manga, desperately trying to find the key to being attractive. No matter how much time she spends doing research or how many different popular outfits she wears, she never gets hit on. She knows she must be doing something wrong, because she sees girls around her getting hit on by lots of guys, even as she is ignored or avoided.

Haruna turns to her friend Mamie for advice, and Mamie tells her that maybe she should look for a coach of some kind - maybe a coach who knows more about what guys look for in a girl might be able to guide Haruna and tell her what she's doing wrong. Haruna instantly thinks of someone who might be able to help her - Yoh, a really hot guy she saw while trying to get hit on. Yoh happens to go to Haruna's school, and at first he wants nothing to do with her and her quest to become attractive. However, he eventually caves and agrees to take her clothes shopping, much to his sister's and friends' glee.

Eventually, Haruna finds out that the reason Yoh was so against becoming her coach was because of his girlfriend in junior high. When he inadvertently hurt her feelings, she told him, "All you ever do is hurt people," and turned his basketball teammates against him with her tears. After she hears this, Haruna's not really sure what to do about Yoh, but she ends up working out a deal with him - he'll be her coach, as long as she doesn't fall in love with him.

One of the first major things Yoh tries to do for Haruna after he agrees to be her coach is find her a skirt (Haruna's reasons for wanting a skirt: because they're girly and because boys like skirts). While they're out skirt shopping, Haruna gets hit on by a guy and is completely thrilled about it, but Yoh senses something's a little off about him. Haruna decides to give the guy her number anyway, which just pisses Yoh off. Yoh's annoyed enough that he says he's just going to let Haruna make her mistake, but he can't help but go after her when he finds out that she plans to meet up with the guy and go to his place. Things go badly with the guy - Haruna finds out that he's not the sweet, inexperienced guy she thought he was and that he didn't like her as much as he said he did. The guy starts dragging her off, but Yoh saves her. Plus, Yoh finally found a skirt that looks good on her.

Haruna's next hurdle: finding a guy. She's not really sure what her type is ("As long as it's someone that likes me, I'll be happy!"), and she's not really sure if there's a guy out there who'd even like someone like her (Yoh says the same, which doesn't exactly increase her confidence). Yoh's friend Fumi helps Haruna stay positive, and it begins to look like Fumi may be the guy for her.

There are aspects of this volume that are cringe-worthy. Haruna may not have a lot of common sense, and she tends to be straightforward to a fault, but she's a great girl regardless. She's kind of like a happy puppy. She's not nearly as unattractive as she thinks she is. Although some of Yoh's advice is probably good, some of it make me want to give Haruna a hug, even if she wouldn't realize why she might need one (she's so relentlessly cheerful that it takes a lot to bring her down). Haruna's a very sporty girl who loves softball, but Yoh tells her to stop working out because it makes her too muscular. He insults her a lot, and the way he phrases things isn't always very nice ("...we still have to find a guy who'd actually like you first").

Of course, some of the things I don't like about Yoh in this first volume actually turn out to be part of his charm. Although girls flock to Yoh because he's attractive and cool-looking, he's not always very good with words. He can be overly blunt, and he's really bad at talking about his feelings. When Haruna compliments him, he blushes and the reader can tell he's pleased, but he's too embarrassed to let Haruna know that her words make him happy. Basically, he's not perfect. It's a good thing Haruna's feelings aren't easily hurt, or Yoh's emotional clumsiness would ruin things between him and Haruna (although Kawahara has Haruna falling for Fumi by the end of this volume, it's not hard to tell who this series' true couple is).

What do I like about this volume? The cute moments between Yoh and Haruna - when he compliments her on her smile, when she compliments him on his smile, when he gets all stubborn about finding her a skirt, etc. The humor - Yoh's horror at some of Haruna's more unflattering outfits, the way Yoh deals with the creep, Yoh's surprise that Fumi would go out with Haruna. Quite a bit of the humor works because of Kawahara's skill at drawing expressions and combining those expressions with various manga conventions, such as sweat drops or throbbing veins. All Haruna's expressions are open and easy to read (Haruna is awestruck, because it seems to her like Yoh can read her mind, when all he's really doing is reading her expressions). Yoh, on the other hand, is more subtle. This makes those instances where he smiles or laughs freely all the more wonderful.

Overall, I liked this volume, even though there are moments throughout the volume where it might be embarrassing to say so. I have ended up addicted enough to this series that I now own the first 8 volumes.

The only extras this volume has are some author free talks.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with romance, a sweet and cheerful female main character, and a guy who isn't always good at expressing his emotions might want to try this.
  • Kare First Love (manga) by Kaho Miyasaka - Karin Karino is a shy student at an all-girls school who doesn't stand up for herself enough. Aoi Kiriya is a handsome and popular student at an all-boys school. Althought they seem completely different, when their paths cross Kiriya ends up asking Karin out on a date. As their relationship develops, Kiriya teachs Karin to be more confident, while Karin helps Kiriya deal with his family-related issues. Those who'd like another series featuring a female character who's a newbie at love and relationships might want to try this.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list. Not like it's the first time, though. Those who'd like another romantic series with a clueless heroine might want to try this.
  • Beauty Pop (manga) by Kiyoko Arai - In Kiri's school, there's a team of three guys who transform random girls by doing their hair, make-up, nails, etc. It's said that any girl they make over is guaranteed to get a date with whoever she has a crush on. Kiri is also a master hairstylist, but she prefers to work anonymously, and she's more willing than the guys to help out girls who aren't already good-looking to begin with. Kiri usually acts pretty apathetic, but she's got a soft heart and can be persuaded to use her skills to improve people's self-esteem. Those who'd like another series featuring makeovers and romance (far less romance than High School Debut, however) might want to try this.
  • Crimson Hero (manga) by Mitsuba Takanashi - All Nobara has ever wanted to do was to play volleyball, but, since she's the eldest daughter, her family wants her to become the next hostess for the family's ryotei (old-fashioned Japanese restaurant). Although Nobara's mother makes it as hard as possible for her to pursue her love of volleyball, Nobara still has the aid of her aunt and ends up living with the members of the Crimson Field High School's boys' volleyball team as their dorm mother. Although, due to lack of interest, this high school has no girls' volleyball team, Nobara is determined to pursue her dreams and gets the team reinstated after challenging the boys' team. Those who'd like another series with romance and a heroine who loves sports might want to try this.

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